Cats push aside early scuffle, advance to title game

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Jasper's Brian Elizarraras, right, congratulates Jacob Mehringer after Mehringer scored Jasper's second goal during Wednesday's Class 3A sectional semifinal against Evansville Harrison in Newburgh. Mehringer scored two goals for the Wildcats as Jasper defeated Harrison 4-0. For more photos from the match, click here.


NEWBURGH — For as long as there have been organized sports, postseason play has always had a way of bringing out extra dimensions in a team’s competitive levels in games that matter most.

Whether it’s the grueling slog of a multi-game series or the sudden death nature of a one-and-done format, the added emotions combined with the elevated stakes have a way of bringing out the edge in all players involved, sometimes past the point of just fighting for the right to advance.

There was one such instance in Jasper’s 4-0 opening sectional win against the Evansville Harrison Warriors.

The Wildcats were up 1-0 after an early score from senior forward Tyler Hunt, and had managed to gain control of the ball once again on the Warriors’ side of the field. Jasper’s Grant Sanders got tangled up with Harrison’s Jackson Kelley.

What started as a fight for the ball and position soon turned into a shoving match between the two defensive midfielders. Kelley tried to grab Sanders around his neck, and soon both boys went tumbling to the ground.

A couple of players for Jasper came in to try and break up the scuffle, but soon one of the game’s officials came over and broke everyone up and separated Sanders and Kelley. When the ruckus had finally calmed down the referee penalized Kelley with a red card, which ended his night and left the Warriors down a man for the rest of the game.

Jasper head coach Kyle Kendall didn’t like the fact that the scuffle happened or that it had such an impact on the game, but he was happy about the way his players kept their composure and didn’t let the dust up distract them from getting the win.

“It’s just an ugly situation,” he said. “You hate to see that factor in. The other 10 kids didn’t make that decision and I feel bad for those kids. But that’s an advantage that we got and we have to make them pay for it.”

Besides the minor wrestling match, Jasper (12-4) played an otherwise solid game in which they controlled most of the flow on the field and kept sophomore Bryson Lynch, Harrison’s goalie, busy with their many shots on goal.

While Lynch did a good job of keeping almost everything in front of him, Jasper was able to sneak in the score necessary to win and the Warriors’ (4-11-1, 3-4) offense failed to match the push and volume of the Wildcats.

“It’s been two or three games since we scored in the first half and we felt like the thing for this game would be getting a goal early,” said Kendall. “We struggled the last few games finding our forwards and getting the ball to them in the right situations. Those good looks early (were important) and finding ways to get our key players in key situations.”

The first of those key situations came in the first half when senior forward Tyler Hunt and junior forward Brian Elizarraras linked up on a combination play to get the first goal for Jasper.

“We were trying to make sure we were close together so we could get that combination,” said Hunt. “Saw Brian open, played it to him then he played it right back to me. (The goalie) came out and he dove, I put a touch around him and passed it in.”

While the Wildcats only found the back of the net once in the first half, midfielders Jacob Mehringer and Jackson Kabrick were able to put in three more goals in the second to seal up the win and claim a space for Jasper in Saturday’s sectional championship game.

Jasper's Jackson Kabrick heads the ball away from Evansville Harrison's Evan Lynch during Wednesday's Class 3A sectional semifinal in Newburgh. Kabrick scored a goal in the Wildcats 4-0 shutout victory. For more photos from the match, click here.

“We came out and put it on them quick and kept finishing throughout the game,” said Kabrick. “It put them under so we got the win.”

“We just wanted to get the W tonight,” added Mehringer. “We came out a little bit slow in the second half. Once they got a few shots we started picking up the pace and we ended up getting three more goals in the second half.”

With Castle’s 3-2 win over Evansville Reitz, Saturday’s championship game is all set for a rematch between the Wildcats and the Knights.

Castle edged out Jasper 1-0 when the teams met on Sept. 22nd, and while Kendall was ready to prepare for whichever team emerged from Wednesday night’s second game, he did say it was helpful that the Wildcats had a recent game tape on the Knights to study from as they prepare for the final.

But before Castle even played, he knew one area of the game he wanted to see immediate improvement on when the team takes to the field on Saturday.

“Possess the ball better than we have in two weeks,” he said.

For the players, their main concern is coming out fast in the second half in order to keep pressure on the opposing players and keep their offense from getting into any kind of rhythm.

“We came out slow in the second half and we’ve had that in the past few games,” said Hunt. “We come out slow and not on our game, and it’s hard to get back into the groove. So that’s one thing we need to work on.”

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